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How to Create and Edit PDF Files Using Open Source Software

written by: Tolga BALCI•edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 5/23/2011

Open source software and Linux in particular, offers perfect utilities for creating, editing, and managing PDF files. Inside is the essential software for all your PDF management needs.

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    Introduction

    Linux offers everything to create, edit, and manage PDF files: you want to create a document and save it to a PDF file, check. You want to split and merge PDF files, check. You want to embed notes and print the document later on, check. You have a CHM (compiled HTML help file) and you want to convert it to a PDF document, check. Let's see how we can do all these with free, open source software.

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    OpenOffice.org

    Linux's most powerful and capable office suite has one-click export to PDF from all the programs. On the toolbar, you will see the PDF icon, which lets you export your file directly to the PDF document. You just select the folder you want to save, name your file and click on the “Export" button to create your PDF document. It could not be easier!

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    CUPS-PDF

    CUPS-PDF Print to File CUPS (Common Unix Printing System) is a backbone program that lets you create PDF files from any program that can print. Normally you will not be going into the heavy command-line usage of the program, but you need to have it installed in order to benefit from its functions. CUPS-PDF is present in all distributions' repositories so you can install it very easily. After the installation, CUPS-PDF will function as a printer in the programs' “Print" menu, which you will see as “Print to file." When you select this option, you can save your document as PS (Post Script) or PDF, as you wish.

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    PDFEdit

    PDFEdit PDFEdit is a Swiss Army knife for all your PDF manipulation needs. You can split PDF documents, insert other files into the document, merge them at the end, and do pretty much everything you want: rotate pages, extract text, perform simple drawing (line, rectangle), make revision controls, make text operations (highlight, strikethrough, color change etc.), and export to XML, although this feature is very limited to basic operations. If you in any way need to play with PDF files, PDFEdit is one program that you need to have installed.

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    Screenshot courtesy of Linuxlife.net.

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    Read on for editing files with Xournal, which will be also beneficial for tablet PC/touch screen device users and chm2pdf which enables us to convert compiled HTML help files (CHM files) to PDF.

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    Xournal

    Xournal Xournal is as application developed for tablet PCs that makes it possible to take notes, make sketches, and keep a journal using a stylus. But this does not stop us from using Xournal for our needs. Xournal is similar to the GIMP (or Photoshop) in terms of having a “layers" concept: you can import a PDF file and take annotations on it. During this process, the original PDF file does not change: Xournal sets it as the background and all your edits are saved in “layers." One point to note here: Xournal files contain links to the absolute locations of the PDF files. Although Xournal is a very good program for playing with PDF files, it has some shortcomings, such as you can only play with one file at a time. The second one is that, although you can resize the document by using the paper size command, the asynchronous rendering makes the document look really ugly. Aside from all these, it is a good PDF editing tool.

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    Screenshot courtesy of geedew.com.

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    chm2pdf

    chm2pdf is a command line tool that enables you to make PDF files from CHM files. There are many e-books available as CHM files, which make them hard to manipulate. This is where chm2pdf comes in and lets you convert the CHM files to PDF. To use chm2pdf, you change into the directory where your CHM file is by cd ~/Documents/CHM and issue either chm2pdf --webpage CHMFile.chm or chm2pdf --book CHMFile.chm. The --book and --webpage options set different margins on the output document, such as the --book option specifying different margins on the even and odd pages, like a real book. There are a lot of options available. Therefore it is worthwhile to take a look at the help file with chm2pdf --help. You can install the program from your distribution's package manager.

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    Conclusion

    As we see, there are very powerful programs that let you play with your PDF files. Personally I find each of them very useful and keep them installed on my computer, enabling me to do whatever I want with the PDF files.